D-Hall’s upper level offers an abundance of choices for a sit-down meal. 

College students may agree; on-campus dining plays a heavy role in one’s day-to-day activities. Whether that be stress-eating Steak n’ Shake at 2 a.m. or carb-loading at E-Hall before hitting UREC, quality food is essential for fueling the body in a way that’s beneficial to students and faculty alike. 

Luckily for the JMU community, in 2019, the Princeton Review ranked James Madison University as No. 8 in the country for best campus food. But often, students wonder which of the numerous dining halls is actually best. To answer this, each dining hall has been ranked based on taste, variety and environment. 

1: East Campus Dining Hall

E-Hall is a classic student favorite and the clear winner of this competition. Although it’s most popular for its Sunday morning brunch, E-Hall is also home to a constantly changing menu and restaurant-like ambiance. Upperclassmen may prefer this dining hall, as it’s the most convenient parking-wise. Meanwhile, underclassmen may relish the opportunity to spend time away from the always-bustling main campus.

Students can enjoy an array of vegan and gluten-friendly options, as well as a rotation of pasta, various Mexican dishes and even an ice cream station, which are all amenities that other dining halls can’t replicate. Overall, E-Hall easily has the best day-to-day variety of food options and a sprawling single-story seating arrangement that’s comparable to a restaurant.

2: Bistro 1908

Perhaps one of the most congested study spaces on campus, the Student Success Center is often packed with students looking for a quick, filling meal. Tastewise, Bistro is superior to most other dining hall offerings due to its food’s almost-homemade charm. 

Students who are in the mood for a meal that tastes like they got it off campus but, oftentimes, only costs a punch should look no further than Bistro. 

The Student Success Center also has seating inside and outside Bistro — a quality that makes it a prime destination for large groups of students to eat, study and hang out between classes. This dining option is just shy of E-Hall’s parking options, even with its location just outside the Quad, which works well for students, faculty and visitors alike. Bistro is most certainly a hidden treasure among the student body and deserves all the hype it gets.

3: Festival Food Court

If one’s looking for a place that can satisfy every craving at once, Festival — sometimes referred to as “Festi” by students — is the place to go. Students can help themselves to stations that serve Chinese and Mexican food, salads and acai bowls, burgers, wings, sandwiches and even comfort foods. Festival is also the perfect place to punch out on Saturdays, as it houses an array of Naked smoothies, cereals, small treats and even a pre-prepared food section. Perhaps its most popular draw is its picturesque view; stopping by Festival at sunset is a top bucket list item for all students.

The only reason Festival is rated below E-Hall and Bistro is because of its slow menu rotation. While Bistro’s menu is permanent, too, the number of meals it has is much larger than those in Festival, allowing students to experiment more with their meal plans. But, this fixed menu doesn’t seem to deter hungry students.

4: D-Hall

Main campus’ principal dining establishment, also arguably home to the best assortment of fast food on campus, is located near Madison Union. The lower level of D-Hall, is divided into the buffet-style Market 64 and areas where Qdoba, Chick-Fil-A, Freshens and Steak ’n Shake reside. Most students use downstairs D-Hall as a quick pit-stop on their way to classes, study sessions or the comfort of their own dorms. Although many students enjoy its convenience now, it may see some competition with the currently under-construction dining facility being built just a minute’s walk away. 

Although downstairs D-Hall is great for a quick bite, D-Hall’s upper level offers an abundance of choices for a sit-down meal. The allergy-friendly room is available by swipe-in to those with severe or numerous allergies, and the expansive circle of other stations is open to the rest of D-Hall’s guests. Non-students pay $13, which is double what other venues charge for a regular punch, to eat unlimited food. With offerings similar to E-Hall, this dining option is only lower on the list because of its deficiency of variety both upstairs and downstairs as well as a lack of the peaceful vibes that the often-quiet East Campus naturally emanates.

Honorable Mentions

Honorable mentions include D-Hub, which will be torn down in order to accommodate a new parking lot in the coming year, and Madison Grill, which attempts to replicate a basic restaurant menu but is often more expensive than the single swipe that students may walk in expecting to pay. If this list has taught students anything, hopefully, it’s that eating on campus doesn’t have to become redundant after the first semester of school. Bus stops are usually only a short walk away, and there are stops close to each dining hall, so there is always an opportunity to try something new.

Contact Liz Riccio at